The one continuing theme of Thomas Raymont’s memoir has been his education, his roots are firmly placed in his studies considering from an early age it has been an everlasting presence. Considering how strong a theme education acts in Thomas’ life it should be expected for this to be reflected in his memoir.
As mentioned in my previous blogs, Thomas’ educational life began at a Dame School where because of the gentleness of his teacher was able to efficiently ’absorb the contents of Mayor’s Spelling Book’ (3). During the 19th century reading and writing were two entirely different skill sets, whilst literacy rates were increasing during the period of the 19th century into the 20th century, it was still a problem for some that whilst they could write they were not able to read. Thomas demonstrates from a young age he is capable of not being in this category of people as he joins in ‘singing hymns and some secular ditties’ (3) proceeded by a brief extract of Mary Had a Little Lamb. These are basic skills which his father (and assumingly his mother) lack due to coming from an uneducated background making Thomas the first in his family to express a desire to further his education.
Following this whilst attending an elementary infant school, Thomas reveals he had passed an annual examination of reading, writing and arithmetic’ which he had ‘passed in all three’ (4). What is remarkable is how Thomas managed to pass these examinations whilst being underage demonstrating his natural talent in these skillsets.
Originating from a religious background it is no surprise when Thomas reveals that he attended a Sunday school 9:30 – 10:30 then again at 2 – 4. Thomas reflects how ‘All the Sunday school teachers were illiterate men’ (6) highlighting the inefficiency of the educational system at the time by employing the illiterate to teach the illiterate.
In Thomas’ home life, after the passing of his brother Jim his collection of a ‘thousand volumes’ (6) remained in the home acting as a memorial to his departed brother. Aged 15-16, Thomas takes it upon himself to read four particular volumes of books filled with sermons and describes himself as ‘fascinated, not only by their deep spirituality, but also by their breadth of outlook’ (7). His understanding of the deeper aspects of these books demonstrates how intellectually advanced he was in comparison to the majority of the working class at the time; an ability to comprehend these texts when he had previously been taught by those who could not even read goes to show the progress he made in such a short span of time.
I believe that religion acts as a catalyst in aiding Thomas’ literacy skills, without the mass volume of texts provided by his deceased brother he would not have had the chance to accelerate these skills to a higher level than his peers and proceed to write several of his own novels in later life.
Thomas Raymont. Memories of an Octogenarian 1864-1949. Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.